Today, we’re going to be taking a closer look at the Nightwalker, a CR 20 pile of undead nightmare fuel from Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes that’s arguably one of the most terrifying adversaries in all of Dungeons & Dragons 5e.
Standing a full 20 feet tall, these striding, flying avatars of death (or maybe anti-life might be more appropriate) spend most of their time trapped within the Negative Plane – a realm of nothingness and death so hostile that it makes the ashen Shadowfell, which you have to pass through to reach the Negative Plane, look like a Sunday afternoon in the park by comparison.
Sometimes, however, they escape their bleak imprisonment. A Nightwalker loose upon the material plane is a terrifying prospect as these entities sow death and destruction wherever they tread.
Nightstalker Stats and Abilities
Before we dive into everything that makes Nightstalkers a truly horrifying prospect to fight as well as how and why dungeon masters should consider putting them in their next campaign, let’s take a closer look at their stats and abilities.
Source: Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes
Alignment: Chaotic Evil
Armor Class: 14
Hit Points: 297 (22d12 + 154)
Speed: 40 feet, fly 40 feet
Saving Throws: Con: +13
Damage Resistances: Acid, cold, fire, lightning, thunder, and bludgeoning, piercing and slashing from nonmagical attacks
Damage Immunities: Necrotic, poison
Condition Immunities: Exhaustion, frightened, grappled, paralyzed, petrified, poisoned, prone, restrained
Senses: Darkvision 120 feet, passive perception 9
Annihilating Aura: A creature standing within 30 feet of the Nightwalker at the start of its turn must make a DC21 Constitution saving throw or take 14 (4d6) necrotic damage. The Nightwalker has advantage on all attacks against all living creatures that fail this saving throw until the start of its next turn.
Life Eater: Any creature that the Nightwalker reduces to 0 hit points dies and cannot be revived unless by means of a Wish spell.
Multiattack: The Nightwalker uses Enervating Focus twice, or it uses Enervating Focus and Finger of Doom once if available.
Enervating Focus: Melee Weapon Attack: +12 to hit, reach 15 feet, one target. Hit: 28 (5d8 + 6) necrotic damage. The target must make a successful DC 21 Constitution saving throw or have its hit point maximum reduced by an amount equal to the necrotic damage taken. The target’s hit point maximum resets when it finishes a long rest.
Finger of Doom: Recharge 6. Range: 300 feet. The Nightwalker points its finger at a creature, forcing it to make a DC 21 Wisdom saving throw or take 26 (4d12) necrotic damage and be both frightened and paralyzed until the end of the nightwalker’s next turn. On a successful save, the target is immune to the Nightwalker’s Finger of Doom for 24 hours.
A Dungeon Master’s Guide To Running a Nightwalker
First, let’s take a closer look at exactly why the Nightwalker is such a terrifying adversary.
First of all, its basic stats already make it a fearsome opponent.
Sure, it’s got a relatively low armor class, but you could hit this thing with everything you’ve got a dozen times over, and it probably won’t even break a sweat.
With an average hit point pool just shy of 300, not to mention damage resistances and immunities aplenty (granted, by the time the party actually encounters one of these things they’re probably going to be walking armories of magical weapons, but still), any adventurers who feel like going toe to toe with a Nightwalker are in for a long, grueling fight.
Then, the fact that any characters looking to get into a stand-up fight with a Nightwalker are going to be committing to a long, long combat makes this monster’s Annihilating Aura, Finger of Doom, and particularly its Enervating Aura especially deadly.
The fact that Enervating Aura (the Nightwalker’s basic melee attack) not only deals a juicy amount of damage but also lowers the target’s maximum HP is just… it’s just the nastiest thing.
With the Nightwalker’s aura dealing damage and probably giving it advantage on an attack with a +12 bonus to hit anyway means this creature is, in all likelihood, going to be semi-permanently stealing a chunk of someone’s max HP every single turn.
High-level characters survive and outlast powerful enemies because they have access to healing magic.
Reduce the maximum health you can top a character up to, and you’re seriously hampering the ability for any cleric or paladin to keep themselves and their allies alive.
And then, to add insult to probably fatal injury, the Nightwalker’s Finger of Doom has the chance to frighten and paralyze its targets.
It gets to do this at least once and then has a 1-in-6 chance or recharging its ability every subsequent turn.
A paralyzed creature is incapacitated and can’t move or speak.
The creature automatically fails Strength and Dexterity saving throws. Attack rolls against the creature have advantage.
Any attack that hits the creature is a critical hit if the attacker is within 5 feet of the creature.
Oh, so the Nightwalker just gets to paralyze a character, damage it, and then hit it again for double damage with a melee attack that reduces the target’s maximum HP.
Then, on its next turn, it gets to try and hit that paralyzed character twice more – with advantage – and deal critical damage if it hits. Okay.
You should be getting an idea by this point as to why Nightwalkers are so deadly.
They mindlessly stride out of the Negative plane, bearing down on the largest concentration of life they can sense, set on extinguishing it with a single-minded resolve that’s deeply chilling.
Smart players may have the idea of keeping the Nightwalker at range so they can whittle away its massive hit point pool with spells and missile fire. Good luck.
With a movement speed of 40 feet and the ability to fly, unless you have some pretty speedy mounts, this is going to be a very short chase.
Of course, the CR system doesn’t expect PCs to actually fight a Nightwalker until they’re in the final tier of play, somewhere between 17th and 20th level. At this point, the players are basically gods and goddesses themselves.
Wizards can wish reality into new and interesting shapes after a good night’s sleep. Clerics are closer in power to the deities they worship than to the average 1st-level hero. Fighters can… hit stuff a bunch of times.
Now, I’m a pretty vocal proponent of the idea that high-level D&D isn’t actually very fun.
Sure, having access to all those cool abilities is appealing to players, but in practice the experience is almost always tedious and overwhelming.
20th-level characters have so many special abilities, spells, magic items – you name it – to keep track of that the pure terror of fighting something like a Nightwalker often gets lost amid reams of text, huge spell lists, and an ocean of dice.
Likewise, the surface appeal of running high-level D&D is often that you actually get to throw monsters like a Nightwalker (or perhaps a Tarrasque if you’re a traditionalist) at your players. Once again, the reality is much the same.
This is a shame because I personally think the Nightwalker is an amazing monster and that fighting one would be the highlight of a campaign.
Heck, how about fighting multiple Nightwalkers? What about a whole adventure or even a campaign about a city besieged by a never-ending tide of these tall (some might say titanic) creatures?
Because I’ll probably never run another super-high-level game of 5e, not to mention the fact that I think the idea of nightmare undead streaming forth from the Negative Plane is super evocative, I’ve (somewhat predictably) homebrewed a lesser version of the Nightwalker for you to put in front of a mid-tier party.
Also, I’ve included notes on how to make them a little varied in terms of appearance and ability.
Variable Sized Undead
Alignment: Chaotic Evil
Armor Class: 10 + 1d4 (roll for each new Nightwalker), natural armor
Hit Points: 65 (10d12)
Speed: 20 feet + Number of Legs x 5, fly 30 feet
Wis 6 + number of eyes
Int 6 + number of heads above one
Saving Throws: Con: +7
Damage Resistances: Roll 1d12 (1. Acid, 2. Cold, 3. Fire, 4. Lightning, 5. Poison, 6. Psychic, 7. Thunder, 8. Roll twice) and bludgeoning, piercing and slashing from nonmagical attacks.
Damage Immunities: Necrotic
Damage Vulnerabilities: Radiant
Senses: Darkvision 60 feet
Annihilating Aura: A creature standing within 30 feet of the Nightwalker at the start of its turn must make a DC 12 Constitution saving throw or take 7 (2d6) necrotic damage. The Nightwalker has advantage on all attacks against all living creatures (the undead and the dying are unaffected) that fail this saving throw until the start of its next turn.
Life Eater: Any creature that the Nightwalker reduces to 0 hit points treats all death saves rolled as a failure. If the creature dies, it rolls all of its unspent hit dice and heals the NightWalker for an amount equal to the result.
Many Forms: Each Lesser Nightwalker has 1d3 heads, 1d6 + 1 arms, 1d8 legs, 1d6 mouths, and 1d6 eyes.
Multiattack: The Nightwalker uses Enervating Focus once per pair of arms. (Ex. A Nightwalker with four arms may attack twice – once as a base and again for its additional pair of arms. A Nightwalker with three arms may attack only once.
Enervating Focus: Melee Weapon Attack: +10 to hit, one target. Hit: 15 (3d6 + 4) necrotic damage. On a hit, the target must succeed on a DC 14 Constitution saving throw or be unable to regain hit points until the start of the Nightwalker’s next turn.
Finger of Doom: Recharge 6. Range: 120 feet. The Nightwalker points its fingers at a number of creatures equal to its number of eyes. Those targeted must make a DC 14 Wisdom saving throw or take 7 (2d6) necrotic damage, become frightened, and have their speed halved until the start of the Nightwalker’s next turn. On a successful save, the target is immune to the Nightwalker’s Finger of Doom for 24 hours.
Otherworldly Strangeness: (roll 1d6):
- Never touches the ground, always floating (flying speed reduced to 15 feet);
- Milky white eyes, totally blind (blindsight 30 feet, no other senses);
- Unstable conduit to the void (whenever the Nightwalker is damaged by a spell, roll on the Wild Magic Surge table);
- Insidious telepathy (gains the ability to cast Command 3 times per day telepathically);
- Irresistible Entropy (corrodes metal and leather like a Black Pudding);
- Yawning Abyss (on a hit, Enervating focus forces a DC 12 Strength saving throw to avoid becoming grappled. At the start of each of its turns while grappled, a creature takes 14 (4d6) necrotic damage, which reduces its maximum hit points by an amount equal to the damage taken).
The results of randomly rolling up a Lesser Nightwalker could be significantly less or honestly almost as deadly as the original, so be careful, and make sure your players know what they’re getting into.
The Negative Plane: Summoning and Banishing a Nightwalker
The way in which Nightwalkers are brought into the world (and how to send them back to the Negative Plane if your players are smart enough to realize that fighting head-on is more trouble than it’s worth) is really interesting.
The Negative Plane, which exists within the Shadowfell, is a place of virtually guaranteed death for any mortal who travels there. The lowest basement of the Nine Hells would be an easier time. At least devils can be bargained with.
When a living creature passes from the Shadowfell into the Negative Plane, they allow a Nightwalker to escape. The Nightwalker then rampages through the Shadowfell and material plane beyond doing what it does best.
The person who entered the Negative Plane is trapped there until the Nightwalker re-enters its home, which it won’t do willingly.
Also, if a Nightwalker dies while outside of the Negative Plane, the creature it swapped places with is trapped there forever.
Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes recommends tempting it back to the rift between worlds using large numbers of living things.
What the PCs can do to actually get it back through the big hole in space, however, isn’t described. Presumably liberal applications of the shove action won’t be enough.